Give it up, turn it loose
A long-distance relationship turns out to be the magic ingredient.
Like Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello’s chamber-pop duo the Postal Service, Michael Estanich and Lucy Vurusic Riner’s RE|Dance is a joint venture across state lines. Their artistic bond, forged in the ’90s while both were members of Molly Shanahan’s Mad Shak dance company, has held fast through Estanich’s academic career, which began in Columbus at Ohio State’s lauded dance department before moving north to the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point, where he’s on the faculty. (Riner has stayed put, and just as active, in Chicago’s modern-dance scene.)
While planning this weekend’s concert—RE|Dance’s first—Riner and Estanich found themselves getting easily carried away by the desire to include all the work they’ve made and dancers they’ve met over the years. “But it was kind of silly,” Riner admits. “Sure, we don’t live in the same place anymore, but we know we really like each other and like to dance together, and if once or twice a year we can join forces, find some collaborators, and make our ideas happen, well then, yeah.”
They found their ideas benefited from the distance between them. Rehearsing alone, sometimes for months at a time, the dancers found new depths. “I rarely worked in such a collaborative way on a conceptual level,” explains Estanich, who has been offering direction to Riner and two other dancers—Robin Anderson, based in San Francisco, and Stevens Point student Sara Tan, given to lengthy trips to Singapore—via telephone conversations, e-mail and trade-offs of rehearsal videos.
“Sometimes I’d let the dancers make up their own moves”—he laughs—“but I’m a real control freak in the studio, when it comes down to it. So to be so far away from the work so much of the time, broken up by these brief and intense periods when we can all get together, I have to listen to what they have to say about their roles—they’re the ones that have really been creating them.”
In the same way that Riner and Estanich’s partnership just “feels right,” the forced abdication of management uncovers paths in the creative process Estanich is happy to follow. Explaining his dark, prop-heavy dance-theater as the continued outgrowth of work he began with his M.F.A. and 2006’s The Birdwomen of the Lonely Fjord, Estanich is freshly engaged by his collaborators’ private investigations of their characters’ possibilities. The Mysterious Disappearance of the Second Youngest Sister, a trio for a Victorian authoress, a character she’s writing and the male pseudonym under which she’s published, put the change in Estanich’s approach right in front of his face. “She gets lost inside the work, loses all control over its development, and then gains it back and gets rid of all the stuff the work said it needed but doesn’t.…Yeah, I guess when you get right down to it, it’s about my own trip through the process of making it.”
RE|Dance comes together for “Portraits Triptych” at Links Hall Friday 15 through Sunday 17.